My trip with Alejandro Ruiz up and down the long, neat aisles of Supermercado Guanajuato is a stop-and-go affair.
I follow behind, just keeping up with his brisk and purposeful pace until we abruptly stop to take in the wall of dried chiles, all packaged in cellophane bags bearing the specialty market’s name.
“This is the pasilla chile – customers buy it to make their mole sauce.”
We take a few steps forward, now immersed in the bright colors of Supermercado Guanajuato’s (6201 Preston Highway) produce section. “And here are the nopales – cactus leaves.”
He points out small chayote gourds, a bin of fuzzy and fresh garbanzo beans, and a mix of green and purple guaje pods. All of these items are well known and beloved throughout Mexico and Central America, and the Ruiz family was determined to make them available in Louisville, despite living nearly 3,000 miles away from their birthplace in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Louisville was not the first stop on the Ruiz’s trip to America from Guanajuato. Ruiz and his siblings spent time in Miami and Chicago, among other places, finding their way to the Bluegrass state when the opportunity to work on a tobacco farm presented itself. Stints in construction and with Big O Tires would follow, before Ruiz determined it was time to oversee his own business, making the decision to take this next step in life, along with his brother, on Christmas Eve 2006.
A Family Affair
His parents had worked in the grocery industry in the past, so the idea of opening their own market came naturally. They started small with a shop in La Grange, noting that the area lacked a Mexican and Central American grocery at the time. As business picked up, a restaurant was added and eventually a tortilleria operation, where whole kernel corn is ground in-house daily to craft fresh tortillas.
Given the high population of Hispanic families living in the Preston Highway corridor, this area of Louisville had piqued their interest during the initial location search; however, the Ruiz brothers didn’t want to compete with neighboring markets already focused on Latin American provisions.
Seven years later, with the La Grange location well established, they decided it was time to venture outside of the eastern end of Louisville and opened their second store, in a sprawling space offering significantly more room and the opportunity to be a one-stop shop for imported goods from Mexico and Central America.
Supermercado Guanajuato on Preston Highway offers a restaurant of its own, along with a bakery boasting countless traditional pastries, fresh ground masa for those who wish to make tamales at home, and an impressive display of housemade ice creams, many infused with exotic fruits like mamey.
The pitaya fruit is one of the many specialty items Chef Bruce Ucán of Mayan Cafe in NuLu is after when he visits Supermercado Guanajuato, and he always spends time selecting dried chiles for his mole, the mulato, guajillo, ancho, and pasilla chiles among his must-haves.
Chef Ucán shared that he appreciates Supermercado Guanajuato’s price point and the fact that their selection, particularly when it comes to fresh Latin American fruits and vegetables, is so comprehensive.
The produce section is indeed one of the most popular areas of the market, second only to the meat department. Spanning the length of the back of the building, clear glass display cases present every cut of beef, pork, and chicken one could want, delicacies like beef feet and tripe are at the ready and popular items for many regular customers.
Meeting Customer Demand
Ruiz continues our tour, moving on from the meat counter and along the side of the store where a row of refrigerated cases flank the wall. Cheese, milk, and butter are among the dairy products imported directly from Mexico and neighboring countries. Frozen vegetables and meat are on hand as well, including whole guinea pigs, a specialty ingredient in Peruvian cooking.
When I share with Ruiz that I’ve eaten guinea pig while traveling in Peru he immediately whisks me over to the Peruvian packaged food section, which occupies about a quarter of an aisle. He tells me this section of the shop has expanded over time, as demand from Peruvian born customers has grown.
Additional shelves are dedicated to items from Colombia, Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico. The extensive nature of this market is dizzying, and I could happily become lost in the aisles, marveling at the selection of rice, the multitude of hot sauce, the abundance of fruits and vegetables.
Ruiz impresses upon me that this is a family operation, his brother, wife, niece, and in-laws all playing a role in helping the business thrive. After some convincing, he has his wife, mother, and long-time employee join him for a photo.
Images of Ruiz’s beloved homeland are on display throughout the front of the store along with a framed violin that his grandfather left to him. These intimate touches ensure this sprawling grocery maintains a personal air and allows visitors to appreciate the ties Ruiz and his family will always have to their homeland. Supermercado Guanajuato simply brings these two faraway worlds that much closer.